“This run down MRT is like Noynoy Aquino’s rotten administration, which should’ve long been replaced — useless, unreliable, and a danger to people’s lives.”
By DEE AYROSO
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MANILA – Not the rains, “garrison-state” security barricades and water cannons stopped progressive groups from calling on President Aquino to step down, as he gave his last State of the Nation Address on July 27.
Amid the heavydownpour, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) led thousands of peasants, workers, urban poor, youth and professionals in a march along Commonwealth Avenue to protest the Aquino administration which they depicted as a rusty, broken-down Metro Rail Transit (MRT) train.
“This run down MRT is like Noynoy Aquino’s rotten administration, which should’ve long been replaced — useless, unreliable, and a danger to people’s lives,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.
A smaller effigy made by the Southern Tagalog groups showed Aquino as a “monster,” with bulging eyes and curling, forked tongue, to show his “destruction of people’s lives, homes, livelihood and the environment,” they said.
Various speakers listed one disaster after another in the lives of ordinary Filipinos, resulting from policies such as contractualization, privatization, deregulation and liberalization.
Referring to Aquino’s vaunted accomplishments in improving the people’s lives thru his “righteous path,” the main question for the day was: “can you feel it?”
Repeatedly, the resounding answer was, “No,” followed by calls, “Tama na, tapusin na, (Enough of it, end it).”
Protesters from the National Capital Region were joined by thousands from Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon, who had spent the night at the Department of Agrarian Reform.
Reyes said Aquino’s term has been marked with pork barrel corruption, the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the selective prosecution in corruption cases, “the failed response before and after Yolanda, the Mamasapano incident, the daily suffering of train commuters, the return of US bases via the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).”
He also cited Aquino’s “bogus land reform, historically high unemployment amid so-called growth,” and the plight of Mary Jane Veloso.
Show of defiance
Commonwealth avenue was lined with some 5,000 anti-riot police men and women, container vans, concrete barriers, and concertina wires, leading to a road block in front of Ever Gotesco Mall, where the barriers all sat in formidable rows, along with dump trucks and fire trucks.
At past 1 p.m., the protesters marched in two separate groups, from Luzon and from Ever, to defy the restrictions set up against government critics. In a symbolic assertion of their rights, those who marched from Luzon pushed their placards against the police shields, and were readily water cannoned.
Protesters from Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon who were already in Don Antonio near Ever Gotesco marched back, found a “soft spot” on the center island, where they removed concrete barriers, pushed two container vans, and opened a gap. This set fire men scrambling for their hoses and bombarded the protesters with water.
At least 16 protesters were hurt in the skirmish with police, with one rushed to the hospital for treatment.
The groups eventually converged and held their program in front of Ever Gotesto Mall.
Teddy Casiño, Bayan spokesperson, said Aquino’s SONA again show “two different worlds.”
“In Aquino’s world, we are his bosses and our will is followed. In the real world, the bosses are blocked and not allowed to enter the house (of Representatives),” he said.
Casiño said Aquino flaunts “inclusive growth” which raises everyone’s living conditions. Yet 60 percent of the population remain poor, with the number of poor increased by 2.5 million.
In Aquino’s world, state forces “protect and detend democracy,” but in the real world, state forces continue to kill, disappear, torture and arrest people, Casiño said. He cited the 238 victims of extrajudicial killings under Aquino.
“Imperialists are our friends,” in Aquino’s world, Casiño said. In reality, the West Philippine Sea is being used by both US and China for their agenda, and the Aquino administration is kowtowing to the US, which is collaborating with China to push their vested interest in the area, he said.
“In Noynoy Aquino’s world, the rotten system is so wonderful and should be continued. But in the real world, it should be ended and dismantled,” Casiño said.
Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC) leader Martin Diño said his group is already preparing charges to be filed against Aquino as soon as he steps down from the presidency.
Hounded by agents
Groups from Southern Tagalog were the first to arrive at Ever at 7 a.m., at the end of their five-day “Bigkisan” caravan calling for Aquino’s ouster.
The groups, led by Southern Tagalog Resign Movement Against Aquino (ST Remove Aquino), condemned how they were hounded by intelligence operatives, who took surveillance pictures of their leaders and members. At least three military agents were accosted by the group.
Iya Franca of Bayan-ST said that in many cases in their region, the presence of intelligence
agents preludes state forces’ attack in homes, workplaces, farms, and communities. “We have our defense system, and we will not let any further harm come to our ranks,” she said.
The day before the SONA, on July 26, the ST Remove Aquino protested at Times Street, in front of Aquino’s home.
Among the days’ protesters were workers who survived the Kentex factory fire in Valenzuela city, and striking workers in Tanduay in Cabuyao, Laguna.
Jobert Camillo, Kentex machine operator and fire survivor, spoke during the program about how their work was hazardous and they had to wear protective mask and gloves, but these were not provided free by the company. The workers’ union was submissive to the company, he said. He lamented how during the fire, they helplessly watched their co-workers, calling for help through the grilled windows, until eventually getting engulfed by fire. Seventy-two workers perished in the fire.
“This is the picture of the workers’ situation under Aquino: kontraktwalisado, binabarat ang sahod, pinapahamak,” he said. “We want justice, we want changes in policies.”
Camillo said the national government tries to wash its hands of any accountability in the Kentex fire, as it puts the blame on the company owner. “The national government is also accountable because it gave a compliance certificate to the company, although the Bureau of Fire Protection did not,” he said.
Anse Are, of the Tanggulang Ugnayan Daluyang Lakas ng Anakpawis sa Tanduay Distillers Inc.(Tudla),
said they have been on strike for already 69 days. As he spoke on stage, his co-workers displayed a blue tarpaulin, printed with the order from the Department of Labor and Employment for the regularization of 103 workers. The order remains unimplemented, he said.
“We are up against Lucio Tan, the second richest man in the Philippines,” Are said. Yet, many of the striking workers have remained contractual, working without benefits, for 10 years.
Are called for the boycott of Tanduay products.
Sol Pillas of Migrante International came up the stage with two women: Celia Veloso, mother of Mary Jane, who remains in death row in Indonesia, and Maritess Aquino, whose son Edmar is in jail in Iran on drug trafficking charges.
“Workers get low wages, or get killed, that’s why many opt to find work abroad,” Pillas said. “But these two mothers here are proof of how government neglects Overseas Filipino Workers.”
‘LGBTs suffer the same’
Kenneth Evangelista, vice chairperson of Kapederasyon, began his speech with a full facial make up, a peach wig and in yellow and pink Korean gown. He eventually shed it off down to his shirt and jeans, to show how “I am just like any of you.”
“Just like how the farmers and workers were exploited and oppressed, so were we, the LGBT. But we doubly suffer because of our patriarchal society,” he said.
“In the five years of Aquino, the LGBT and the people were ‘etsepwera, deadma,’ (ignored)” said Evangelista.
Protest inside congress
At the end of Aquino’s speech inside the House of Representatives, the six partylist representatives from the Makabayan bloc raised signs, which read “Pork barrel king,” “Pahirap sa manggagawa at kawani,” and “Mapangaping asendero.”
They were promptly booed by Senate president Franklin Drilon who stood alongside Aquino, with House of Representative Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
“Aquino’s flagship public-private partnership projects gave Filipino billionaires entry into the list of the world’s richest while further depriving the poorest Filipino families of basic social services,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Emmi De Jesus in a statement.
She said seven out of 10 Filipinos are dying without getting medical attention, because of inaccessible health services, worsened by the privatization of government hospitals.
“Under Aquino, more than 25 million remain below the poverty line while the wealth of the 10 richest Filipinos has more than tripled at 250 percent from Php650 billion ($14 billion) in 2010 to Php2.2 trillion ($48 billion) in 2015,” De Jesus said.